Noah Baumbach’s career has already included some major highs – Frances Ha, While We’re Young and Mistress America to name but three. But his latest film Marriage Story eclipses even those triumphs. A Netflix-produced drama, it will receive a short cinema release before hitting the streaming service at the end of November. However you see it, just make sure you do. Whether you’ve been married or not, divorced or still in a loving, long-term relationship, this is a film you will relate to.
Adam Driver plays Charlie, a successful off-Broadway theatre director who lives in New York with his actress-wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). But no sooner have we been introduced to these characters and their foibles, than we’re told they’re getting a divorce. Nicole moves back to Los Angeles, with their son Henry (Azhy Robertson). It’s supposed to be a temporary switch, but as Nicole returns to her native city to live with her mother (Julie Hagerty) changes things, legally.
Advised to get a lawyer, she is ushered towards Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern), an absolute shark in a tank of piranhas; Charlie realizes he must contest custody and the rest of the divorce in L.A., now Nicole is living there with their son, and he bounces between two very different attorneys – Ray Liotta’s straight-talking brute and Alan Alda’s softly-softly legal eagle. The more the story unfolds, the more you’re made to realize just how hideous divorce can be when lawyers get involved.
Remarkably Baumbach – who has been through divorce himself, after his split from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh – has crafted a film that appears to be pro-marriage, or at least in favour of the idea of family and long-term relationships. For all the bitterness and bile, particularly in the stand-out scene when Charlie and Nicole unload on each other in a savage argument, there’s also a lot of love in the room. Both parents are still trying to do their best for Henry; it’s just they get distracted by material/territorial interests.
What follows is a wonderfully adult film – one that it’s impossible not to fall for. The performances are all magnificent – Driver, Johansson, Liotta and Dern all deserve some serious love in this year’s awards season, as does Baumbach, whose only previous Oscar nomination was for scripting The Squid and the Whale (which dealt with a parental split from the child’s eye view). An utterly impressive work, touching and empathetic, Marriage Story is easily one of the films of the year.
Marriage Story opens on 15 November. For more details, visit here.